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Drinkable Wednesday: Stalking right wine for asparagus

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by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

If Lyle Allen, executive director of the Green City Market is on an asparagus binge, then you can't blame him. Allen knows that fresh asparagus will be in the market "maybe two weeks if we're lucky." The time to enjoy it is now.

The question of what to enjoy it with is rather more complex.

New York City's Eleven Madison Park has garnered a few awards, one of them a James Beard Foundation Award for outstanding wine service. Before New York gets too cocky about that, it should be noted that wine director John Ragan grew up in Kansas City and Chicago. ("Everybody's from Chicago," he says.)

Eleven Madison's chef, Daniel Humm - another Beard winner - creates a seasonally driven menu. For the average wine lover, that might create occasional problems. Consider asparagus and wine. As Ragan observes, "Everybody says it just doesn't work."

Most of us could simply opt out - not Ragan. He can't say, "Well, chef, you know, they say . . . the wine thing . . . Do you think it's possible that maybe we just don't use that?"

As Ragan's figured out how to pair the impossible vegetable with more than passable wine, it seems only sensible to take his advice and run to Binny's, Fine Wine Brokers, Just Grapes or wherever pleasure or pattern takes you.

What should you buy once you're there?

It depends on how you're preparing the asparagus. Are you serving asparagus alongside a slab of grass-fed beef? Is it chilling with a few curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano? These things make a difference. mayasparagus.jpg

Forget the myth. "Asparagus itself does go with certain wines," Ragan says. "It does have a smaller window of what it likes. It's not roast chicken. It's not a steak. So what do you do?"

While you're forgetting the myth, you should also set aside some habits. If you like Cabernet with your steak, and you pile asparagus on the dish, then your beautiful Cabernet may not taste so lovely any more. "The things that asparagus isn't so friendly with are things that a lot of people are comfortable with," Ragan says. "Asparagus and woody Chardonnay: no good. Asparagus and tannic reds: no good. Asparagus and reds that have a lot of wood on them: no good."

You can't think of wine first and then add the asparagus. Start with the food. Ragan dislikes the dictatorial "You should drink this." What could you drink with asparagus? "Crisp, minerally, very aromatic whites . . . A dry, sherry-type wine - asparagus with butter and a glass of Fino or Manzanilla Sherry is fantastic."

For simplicity's sake, Ragan offers three green possibilities to consider: rich and earthy (say, with an egg and morels), salad (perhaps tossed with grapefruit segments) and herbal (with peas and a fresh, minty dressing).

With an earthy dish, consider a Grüner Veltiner. Grüner's oily texture works with richer dishes, but it also has notes of white pepper and dried herbs that mirror asparagus. "That's one of those pairings where you say, 'Ah, these two similar things work well together.'"

For salads, think about a Sylvaner from Alsace, with its honeyed nature and distinct fruit "A dry wine," Ragan says, "but pushing toward that off-dry edge . . . That Sylvaner, Muscat, Alsatian thing is so good and so classic with asparagus. That would be a whole other camp of wines that people should think of when they think 'asparagus and wine don't go together.'"

Herbal dishes. "It's important not to do Sauvignon Blanc that's got a bunch of oak on it, but a really classic, clean, crisp, transparent style of Sauvignon Blanc - Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, something like that. Sancerre has that herbaceous, grassy thing going on." A fresh salad with asparagus will bring out the best in the wine - a winning partnership.

At Green City Market, Mick Klug Farm, Ellis Family Farm, Nichols Farm and 1st Orchard have asparagus. Get it while it's fresh, choose your flavor profile, buy a bottle of wine and raise a glass to springtime.

2 Comments

Got to love the green stuff with red or white! Love the article! Just Jess!

Thanks for the information. I love asparagus and, more or less, gave up on serving wine with it at all. Now, I'll give it another try.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on June 16, 2010 11:31 PM.

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